Good homiletics does not always lead to good preaching

in his excellent book Preaching for Revitalization, Michael F. Ross describes a shift in literature on preaching. Prior to the twentieth century, books did not indicate that preaching was in decline or a question in people's minds. "Rather their emphasis is on the spiritual aspects of preaching: the minister's life and heart, prayer, Spirit-led preparation, the hope of the gospel, and so forth."

In the 1930s and 1940s, books began to describe a decline in preaching.

Ross describes how the emphasis has shifted in response to this crisis in modern literature:

Overall, the current works focus most on communication theory and practice - style, SAIs (stories, analogies and illustrations), voice methods and time usage - while the earlier works dwell and content, theology, spiritual motivations and the character of the minister.

Ross argues that we need to look beyond communication skills if we want to see a revival of biblical preaching:

The crisis of the American pulpit is not one of communication theory, but rather one of content, conviction, and consistency of theology and life...This is not to say that communication theory and practice are not important, but rather to keep two concepts separate: homiletics and preaching. Good homiletics does not necessarily result in good preaching. Homiletics does not transform the soul; true preaching does!

Asking the right questions

From the book Total Church:

We ask, "Where does God fit into the story of my life?", when the real question is "Where does my life fit into this great story of God's mission?"

We want to be driven by a purpose that has been tailored just right for our own individual lives, when we should be seeing the purpose of all life, including our own, wrapped up in the great mission of God for the whole of creation.

We talk about "applying the Bible to our lives." What would it mean to apply our lives to the Bible instead, assuming the Bible to be the reality - the real story - to which we are called to conform ourselves?


Preaching the Gospel in an age of self-help

From GospelDrivenLife:

Any accommodation of the Gospel to self-help is a denial of the Gospel. The Gospel is humbling because it treats us as helpless and no one likes that ('What do you think I am, an invalid? I can handle it without your help.') And when I tell people I am teaching them Christianity and all I am doing is putting Jesus name on some self-help schemes, I am preaching another Gospel.

So, what about all the practical? You do have to DO something, don't you?

Well, yes, but there is a world of difference between dependent, humble application of the Gospel to life and self-sufficient, self-exalting self-help. If people leave my preaching confident in the rules and principles I have given them, I have preached a false Gospel. If they leave the room confident in the faithful grace and power of the Savior to work in them as they seek to obey -- I have preached the Gospel.


Tim Keller on preaching to a non-abstract culture

One of the keys is Christ-centered preaching:

People in our society will respond to narrative and story. They tend not to like the older kind of preaching that simply enunciates doctrinal principles. Neither will they be as excited about the newer user-friendly sermons of seeker-churches on 'How to Handle Fear,' 'How to Balance Your Life,' etc. But there is a danger that postmodern preaching will devolve into mainly poetic storytelling rather than expounding the truth.

In Luke 24 we learn that every single part of the Bible is really about Jesus. The Christ-centric preaching approach sees the whole Bible as essentially one big story with a central plot: God restores the world lost in Eden by intervening in history to call out and form a new humanity. This intervention climaxes in Jesus Christ, who accomplishes salvation for us what we could not accomplish for ourselves. While only a minority of Biblical passages actually give the whole storyline, every Biblical text must be placed in the whole storyline to be understood. In other words, every text must be asked 'What does this tell me about the salvation we have in Christ?' in order to be understood.

This understanding of preaching, then, turns all preaching into narrative preaching, even if it is an exposition of Deuteronomy, Proverbs or James. Every sermon is a story in which the plot of the human dilemma thickens, and the hero that comes to the rescue is Jesus. Christ-centric preaching converts doctrinal lectures or little how-to talks into narrative preaching, but it is still careful, close Biblical exposition of texts.